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50th Venice Biennale 2003: Michael Stevenson

June - November 2003

Creative New Zealand

Curators: Boris Kremer & Robert Leonard

Project Manager: Global Art Projects


In his installation This is the Trekka, New Zealand artist Michael Stevenson linked two ingenious Kiwi inventions - the Trekka, hailed as New Zealand’s only homegrown automobile, to the Moniac – the world’s first economic computer described by Dr Alan Bollard, Governor of the Reserve Bank, as “a work of genius”.

A perspex labyrinth, the Moniac is a water-driven analogue computer, a hydraulic model of a national economy. Water flows through a series of plastic tanks, gauges, sluices and tubes, representing money in circulation.

Together, the Trekka and the Moniac formed the centrepiece of a larger installation that presents a big-picture view of New Zealand industry and culture in the Cold War period.

Michael Stevenson decided to incorporate the Moniac into his installation, This is the Trekka, when he saw the machine in action. “I was captivated by this ingenious device and the way in which it could enhance my installation and the story I wanted to tell. The Moniac is able to physically and visually stand in for ‘the national economy’ and it is this synthesis of mechanics and economic concepts that makes the Moniac so rich in metaphor.”

The Trekka tells the story of a South Pacific nation reputedly bartering sheep skins for Skoda motors across the Iron Curtain. Although the Trekka was hailed as homegrown, a product of Kiwi-can-do inventiveness, it was manufactured around a Czechoslovakian chassis and motor. It was, therefore, not entirely New Zealand-made.

The exhibition is typical of Stevenson’s approach. His latest projects have been fact-finding missions that uncover bizarre links between art history and social history and offer an outsider perspective, a view at odds with the prevailing mindset.

The venue for the New Zealand exhibition was La Maddalena. The only round building in the city, La Maddalena is a rare example of 18th century architecture in Venice. The church had been closed for many years while both the building and its priceless artworks have been retored. It was the first time La Maddalena had been used as a venue for the Venice Biennale.